Puppy Possessiveness and Resource Guarding

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Snarling Puppies can make Dangerous Dogs

Some puppies learn early in their development to guard the resources they receive, or their littermates might take them.   They guard food, toys, treats, chewies and even affection by snarling, growling, and even biting.  This guarding behavior often extends into their new homes.

The problem begins when these bullies enter a home with humans and especially those with young children.  They must be taught impulse control and not to guard whatever they value.   It is imperative to start this training while the puppy is young, if this behavior continues past adolescence it can be become extremely dangerous.

I remember hearing a story about resource guarding that still makes my hair stand on end.

On thanksgiving the grandmother of the family took the turkey out of the oven and put it on the counter to cool before dinner was to be served.

The family dog immediately came into the kitchen and began sniffing around and investigating the turkey.  At some point he decided the turkey belonged to him.

Therefore, when the grandmother returned to retrieve the turkey for dinner, he attacked her.  Her wounds were so significant that she had to go to the hospital for stitches.

The dog had always been a resource guarder, no one had ever tried to correct or deal with the problem they just left him alone when he was eating or playing with a toy.  They didn’t realize that by ignoring the problem and letting him have everything he wanted they were exacerbating the problem and he was getting more and more aggressive.  The grandmother probably never even saw it coming before it was too late, and I am sure the dog was appalled that grandma would DARE take HIS turkey!

It is vital to start this training with young puppies.  Waiting until your puppy is older or working with an adult dog can be dangerous and will probably take a different

Puppies should be Taught Trust and Enjoy Chewing Around Family Members

training style and method.  Puppies 6 months and younger are slightly safer and a little less likely to bite and do damage; however if you feel you are at risk please do not do anything where you might incur a bite!!

NEVER involve young children with any dog or puppy that resource guards.  This behavior should first be dealt with and controlled by adults.  Children cannot read dog body language like adults can, and so often they get severely bitten, or even mauled.  Never leave your children alone with a dog or puppy that is possessive or guards anything.  Imagine a 2 year old chasing down and trying to take away her Barbie that the puppy has stolen…this could end very tragically when children and dogs are not monitored closely!

That being said, I like feeding my resource guarding puppies from my hands so that they associate food and all the good things in life coming directly from me.  I will also hold their rawhides or chewies as they are chewing on them so I am close to them as they are chewing.   This helps them to realize that I am not a threat and they get use to my presence while they chew.  I will not allow them to take a toy, chewie, or treat and run into another room it eat it!

If they handle that well, I put my fist into their bowl and they have to eat around it.  If the puppy is serious about resource guarding I do not recommend this there is no need to get bitten and there are easier ways of getting them to accept your presence in and around their food…even if it is a longer process.

If your puppy is not a resource guarder, I still recommend putting your fist in his bowl.  Get use to handling him while he is eating, playing with a toy or chewing on something.  This, again, is not for children.  But I recommend that adults touch their puppies while they are doing all of these things.  Get them use to hands in their faces and pushing them out of the way of their toys and treats.  Touch their tails, near their eyes and their paws.  DO NOT do this if your puppy growls, snarls, stiffens, or tries to bite.

Attitude and Aggression Must Not be Tolerated, even from the Cutest Faces

If you have a puppy that growls, snarls, stiffens, gives you the evil eye, or tries to bite as you approach when he possesses something he wants, he needs to be taught that releasing his valued object is in his best interests and he will be rewarded for doing so!

I once heard a friend say taking something from your puppy all of the time makes him feel like YOU are the bully.  He seemingly never gets anything good out of it.

If a bully on the playground ran up and hit another large child in the face and stole his cookie every day the second child may eventually get defensive and fight back.  You would be able to see his body language change as the bully approached while he was eating.  But, if that same bully ran up and instead offered the child a brownie or a sundae (something that had a higher value) chances are an exchange would happily take place.

We need to teach our puppies that a better exchange is about to take place, so that they will happily drop any item they might grab.  To do this, at first I don’t recommend that they be eating or chewing on anything.  They simply need to associate the command with good things and treats being tossed on the floor.

Again I must reiterate:  at first I recommend they are not eating or chewing on anything. 

Step 1: I walk up to a puppy (that is just sitting there laying down or chewing on nothing) and as I say “Drop It” I toss a handful of treats down on the floor just to the right or to the left of him.  The toss should be just enough to get the puppy up off of his spot and make him move.

He will soon begin to associate the command “Drop It” with wonderful treats being tossed to the floor, instead of tensing up or stiffening because he thinks you are about to steal his toy or his treat or whatever he might have stolen.

When you can see that he now enjoys the command and is eagerly looking for tossed treats, it is time to move to step 2.

Step 2: is to wait until he is chewing on or playing with something he finds only slightly entertaining (nothing too exciting or yummy), walk up to him and say “Drop It” as you toss the treats to the left or right of him making him get up and walk over to them.  It is crucial at this point DO NOT touch the toy or treat.  Let him return to the item and continue playing or chewing if he so desires.

Step 3: is to do the same as in step 2 but this time walk over and touch his toy or treat.  If he has good behavior and does not growl or act aggressive give him a jackpot.  Do not pick up the item.  But reward him for good behavior.

Step 4: is to do the same as step 3 but pick up the item, jackpot then immediately give it back to him.

Step 5: repeat step 4 but hold the item longer before its return.  Jackpot for a happy response!

Now you can move on to higher value items, but work your way back up the list.  Taking a toy away is not like asking for your dog to drop a pig’s ear!  Ensure your dog’s success and your safety by making sure he is enjoying the training and you are using great rewards.

The final step if everything is going well, is to teach your dog to accept you taking something out of his mouth.  Only move on to this step if you are seeing no aggression!

Go to your pup while he is not eating or chewing on anything, open his mouth and drop in some delectable treats as you say “Drop It”, now toss some treats to the

Chewing and Playing should be full of Joy not Fear!

ground as in the previous steps and jackpot a good response.

Next step toward him and open his mouth (like you would imagine doing if he took something) and begin to desensitize him to you opening his mouth and darting

toward him.  Drop treats into his mouth after you open it and praise him.  Teach him that this behavior brings treats and rewards not fear and him losing his prize!

Soon if you work through the steps slowly and patiently with kindness and having fun, you will be able to take anything from him and he will enjoy it!  When he hears “Drop It” he should happily spit out ANYTHING because he expects a wonderful treat in return!  Once he has learned to respond correctly, make sure you continue to intermediately reward him for good behavior and you should be able to take anything from him for the rest of his life!


There are 23 Comments

  1. Stephen says:

    I tried these steps with 130 pound malamute and now she will stop eating hamburg and I can go into her mouth and take it out (then back immediately)


  2. debbie koop says:

    Good article. It is indeed a wise choice to get a hold on it when they’re young. I’ve found most puppies will be on guard and now mine will allow the kitten to get close to his dish and not snap but he doesn’t like it. He just knows better, loves his kitten and doesn’t mean to harm it. However I do monitor feed time with a verbal reminder and can take his dish or anything away with no fuss. He knows he’ll get it back with reward. We started this at 8 wks. old and he’s now 2 still doing well. I will work more on the “dropping thing” though, so thanks for the tip! Hope all listen to your good advice!


  3. Barbara says:

    Dear Chet, Have bought the “Hands Off Training” & so enjoy & learn from your reports. Have adopted a Shih-Tzu mix, possible pug from a rescue society. Puppy mill dog. How heartbreaking! Comes from Minnisota to here in Canada through ConnectaCanine. No background-estimated age is 4-5 years. Originally, he virtually peed on everyyhing including a cookie thst I gave him! Then he peed everywhere. Through your advice I have been able to re-train to go outside to “potty”. You must know, he spent all his life in a cage & knew nothing about a yard or grass. He was rescued in May, vaccinated for rsbies & then neutered & came here in July. He was then familiar with a sidewalk but not grass. Now he runs the gammit with my other 2 Shih-Tzus in the back yard. I found your info re: training an older dog very helpful. We are now at the “sit” command which is just about complete. Next is “stay”. I am experencing great episodes with “marking”, although it is dimishing. Have bought him “Male Wrap” from Simple Solutions” for when I visit, BUT I would like this situation to completely stop. It is not accepatble! Just bought Sargeant”s “Shoo” which I have sprayed around furniture. No positive response as yet. I am sure this poor little guy was mistreated, misfed etc & never saw the proper “light of day”. I will look after him, no matter what but I certainly would like some help or better advice & more cleaniless on his part. I am 65+ years old & a former employee of the CSPCA-animals have been such an intgral part of my whole life * will continue to be. I certainly Chet, you can help me, particulary in the “marking” situation
    Best regards,


  4. Brittany says:

    This is great for my dog around people, but what about other dogs. She has a problem when it comes to her bones and chew sticks. She can’t stand if another dog in the room has one. She has to go take it from the other dog and starts to growl and get tense if the other dog tries to get it back. When she starts to act like that I take all the bones away and don’t let her have them. When there is no other dog around, I, or any other person can take her bones away with out a problem. It is just when other dogs are near that she gets this way. What can I do to help fix this problem.



    Minette Reply:

    This requires a whole different training methodology, I will have to write another article to tackle this problem keep your eyes out!


    Robin Reply:

    Hi Minette,

    Did you ever get a chance to write the article on what to do for RG from dog to dog. My 9 month old (Lab Rotti) likes his sticks and still bite other dogs who he thinks are even looking at his sticks. He will also growl at me and clamp down on the stick.

    Today I got two teeth marks in my leg as I stepped between him and another dog who he though was going for his stick.

    Please help.

    Thank you,



    Minette Reply:

    WE have an aggression course I would recommend. contact Dana to be put on the list for the next course info@thedogtrainingsecret.com

  5. Connie says:

    I have five dogs. How do I get the smallest inthe pack not to resource guard ME from the other dogs? She is not a resource guarder of other things – just the people she loves.


    Minette Reply:

    dog to dog guarding is different and I will have to write an article to tackle this question to make sure I cover all of the points so keep your eyes out!


  6. Tammy C says:

    Hi Chet ‘
    I also have thesame problem as Minette, I have a chipin ( minipin mix) she get possesive of me esspecialy with other dogs of which I have 3 others . Shes not to bad wth people but she is shy and demands to sit in my lap when we have company, or she’ll go and hides out. what do you suggest as i cant trade myself for a bissquit with the other pets or company?
    Thanks for your time and insight.
    Tammy C


  7. julie says:

    I do not recommend this on your own. I even did this under a trainers guide and I ended up with 15 stitches in my arm. My dog would attack me even if I had the food in my hand to feed it to him. I have never seen this work with a dog with sever food aggression. I think maybe with a puppy it would be different. But not with a grown dog.


    Minette Reply:

    That is why I say only to use with puppies!! Adult dogs do require a much different approach! But, puppies should learn early


  8. Julie says:

    So what would you recommend for an adult dog? My rescued springer came with some serious issues with resource guarding.


  9. Cindy Doney says:

    Someone dumped a 4 month old Boxer mix up the canyon by my house. He didn’t wonder down here for a month. My edaughter and her husband took him in. He is going to BE VERY BIG!! HE CHEWS EVERY THING UP!! He likes to be picked up like a baby and the children love him, but my daughter is going nuts with him sneaking and taking all their shoes outside and eating them!! They try to keep everything up, but he is getting very tall! My son-in-law doesn’t believe in neutering a dog and I said I would pay for it!! Doen’t they settle down if you do? We think he is part pit bull! I don’t want him getting aggressive! He probably weighs 60 pounds now and is 7 months old.The vet just said he was a boxer mix. Keri can’t take much more of him chewing on her COUCH!!! All his baby teeth are out now, why does he want to chew everything!!! Please help me, I feel responcible since he showed up on my porch! Thanks, Cindy


    Minette Reply:

    He is teething and chewing up stuff is fun for puppies. She needs to keep an eye on him and TEACH him what is acceptable and what is unacceptable to chew on, put him on a leash, or follow him around and not let him have access to shoes and the couch.

    As I sit here writing this I am surrounded by 3 dogs at my feet, 11 years old, 17 months and 7 months. They learn to hang out with me. If I can see them I know they are not eating my shoes or my sofa! When I get up here in a moment to go shower they will all follow me in there (and the cat) my husband tried to come in the other day and thought it was hilarious he stepped over two dogs, made it to the toilet and that is where the cat was laying. The door was open because they are use to following me around now, but if I can’t see them I begin to wonder what they are getting into.

    She needs to teach him to stay with her!

    Also, it is her dog too so if she wants him neutered I say DO IT! Have her take him to the vet and get it done before he begins marking and running off to find other dogs in the neighborhood. I am a proponent of neutering and once it is done I think they will both be happy and it will help him to settle in.


  10. Katherine says:

    I really enjoyed this article! I’m a trainer and I had a husky puppy (about 4-5 months old) put a hole in my hand when we were practicing not to resource guard. =) We had been working on it and she was progressing nicely but with food she’s just the spawn of satan. She learned to not resource guard toys, people, other things, but food is completely different. It didn’t help that her owner was scared of her. If only people all people truly knew how important confidence and consistency are with pups!


  11. helen says:

    my 7 week old puppy Sugar Ray bites my husband and I.. How do we stop this.. I think I have tried every thinh..And I mean bite, not nibble.
    The comments on this page were good, but those are not my problems yet. !
    Thanks for your help in advance.


  12. Laurie says:

    Hey Chet…I dont have a problem with taking away food or a toy my prblem is I have 2 pups who eat in their cages both meals and one the shep mountain dog is more agressive with food and is 63 lbs 11 monthes old and his brother from a different mother is 53 lbs and passive with his food a shep collie same father. I would love to feed them together outside the cages…What do you suggest???


    Minette Reply:

    For safety’s sake you may need to keep them separate for feeding, it isn’t worth risking the damage one could do to the other.

    Keep your eyes out for an upcoming article on dog/dog resource guarding.


  13. Patrick says:

    Minette, I have a puppy related problem I am becoming very concerned about. First off I have a 11 year old Golden Retriever mix and a 10 month old boxer/terrier mix. My 10 month old puppy over the last three weeks have started resource guarding. First it was if my spouse or I were eating and my 11 year old dog would get close to us the puppy would start growling and this would lead to a potential fight. Puppy would be growling and shaking like he was terrified or something.

    Last night my husband was already in bed and I was climbing in on my side. The puppy was in between us and started growling when I got close. This is a first and my husband made him get down. I am highly concerned because 9 times out of 10 the puppy and I cuddle all night and he’s with me all the time when I’m home from work.

    Do you have any suggestions about how I should modify this behavior? I love this little guy dearly and want him in my home!


    Minette Reply:

    If you want to keep him and you don’t want to be attacked at night, you need to crate him and start instilling more obedience and rules.

    He is running wild like a spoiled child. He wasn’t shaking because he was scared, he was shaking because he was FURIOUS! Have you ever been so mad you shook all over?

    He needs rules and good parenting. I am not a believer in “alpha rules” as they have disproven most of those theories.

    But I do believe that if you spoil your child or your dog you will get a spoiled rotten child/dog that is a bully when he/she doesn’t get his/her way.

    And, dogs use their teeth when they are angry.

    Put him on a leash and keep him on it in the house, ALL THE TIME! Your 11 year old dog doesn’t deserve to be treated this way!! And, don’t give him treats if he is going to guard them.

    My puppy is a terrible resource guarder. I am teaching him to accept me taking things from him and touching him when he has something I want or he wants. But he will NEVER be capable of having a goodie with other dogs around. He can only have them ALONE outside or in his crate!

    Don’t allow him in the bed, or some day he is going to bite one of you BADLY and you are going to end up in the hospital and he is going to end up euthanized.


  14. Kim says:

    Hi I have a Yorkie 6 months old and everytime he’s sits or sleeps and I just try and touch or move him he growls and bites, I don’t know how to stop him, he’s not playing or eating just sitting or laying down.. For instance when I try take him to bed or just to move him so I can also sit on the couch.. He bit my son on the mouth also for no reason at all… Plz help??


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